“All the decisions I had faced and torment over the procedure, the questions, doubts, uncertainty had now been realised and vanished. A huge sense of relief came over me and I took great satisfaction in my own beliefs and way of thinking.”
It had been just over a year since the operation. I was feeling well, strong and active, living a good life.
The first annual check up scan was around the corner. It seemed a long time since I had been to a hospital and the operation was a familiar but distant memory. I was confident about my overall health although the appointment made me question it. What if things underneath weren’t as they seemed? What would happen if the results came back with bad news? I pondered this more and more as the appointment got nearer and reassured myself that I was in tune with my body.
The date arrived and I went back to hospital for an ECG scan. It was in the same part of Bart’s where I had my first scan after the operation. This time it was much further down the corridor, which seemed strangely dark and very long, like a tunnel with no end. This old part of the hospital was slowly being renovated and it was clear things were being moved around to accommodate the changes.
I sat in a makeshift waiting room which was equally dark, with a few chairs in it and not much else. It wasn’t long before I got called through by a young female nurse who was very chatty. It was the first time in a while I had heard someone say: “you’re a lot younger than most of the people we get in here!” and I remembered how accustomed I had become to that phrase. We started talking and she told me she had been doing this for a while having moved around within her field of expertise from role to role and was now contemplating a change.
I sat down on the bed which was tucked up close to the wall in a corner, took off my T-shirt and she placed the wire patches on me. I then lay down with my back to her staring at the pale green wall right in front of me.
“The gel’s cold,’’ she said, and placing the scanning instrument on my chest the examination began.
I stared at the wall which was cold and bare with small bumps of rough plaster on its surface reminding me of a barren wasteland. It seemed to reflect how I was feeling as I lay on the bed; alone, sad and empty.
I was transported back to the time just before the operation and remembered things I had forgotten. Emotions rushed out from my gut and head and tears gently made their way to the corners of my eyes and drifted down my cheeks, leaving a sense of sadness in their wake. A trail of history was etched on my face in the form of two clear, lonely roads. It wasn’t pleasant to be here again.
The examination was completed and as before there would be a thirty minute wait while the results were prepared and sent through to the surgeon or a member of the team. I was directed out and into another building. This was the new, modern hospital that had recently been completed, with a big central atrium which allowed lots of light in and felt very spacious. There were plants dotted around adding an uplifting feeling; it was a hive of activity, quite the opposite of the old hospital with its dark and cramped rooms adorned with thick heavy walls.
I took in my new surroundings, trying to understand that this would now be part of life and once a year I had to come back and do it all again so they could keep a close eye on how the valve and I were doing.
I got called in to see an Italian doctor who was very welcoming. He was wearing round glasses, had short, black curly hair and a few days’ growth of stubble on his chin. He reminded me of the A&E doctor I once saw.
He asked how I was doing and how I had found the previous year. We had a pleasant conversation, chatting about life and my recovery and he then went over the scan.
‘‘Everything is fine, it’s all working perfectly,’’ he said with assurance. Immediately an internal release of tension flowed through my body in a wave of relaxation and joy.
He explained there was no need for me to come here again as this was where they fix people; it wasn’t for check ups and the medical view had changed: “we, the surgeons are like car mechanics, we fix you. We are not part of the diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or preparation. As you are well there is no need for you to come back.”
He went on to say: ‘‘you are the best doctor and the only person who really knows how you are feeling, so stay in tune with your body and you’ll know if you need to come back.”
It was music to my ears and I instantly took reassurance in how I had felt: “I knew it!” I thought. This was exactly what I had been thinking and feeling all along, I would know if things weren’t going well.
I decided to open up to him and explain how I felt. I couldn’t see the point in all the check ups and going through this process once a year if I felt good. The experience itself wasn’t pleasant and I didn’t want to feel as though I was going through it all again every year. It would be as if I could never let go, forget or move on. It was a constant reminder of what may be around the corner.
Up to this point I had also continued to take aspirin every day to ‘thin the blood’ as a precaution and I spoke about this and whether it was still necessary. With a confused expression he frowned at me and said: “no, you needn’t take it. Although I will refer you to the cardiology team to make sure. The cardiology department are best to advise on this, so to be certain go and see them.”
We carried on chatting and as I was preparing to leave he said: “If you don’t mind me asking, why the tissue valve?”
I looked at him, smiled and said: “way of life, the freedom to choose and live how I feel.” He nodded his head and told me to go and do anything I wanted and live life as I saw fit.
In the space of fifteen minutes I had been told I didn’t need to go back to hospital for any check ups, take the daily medication I was on and to live life as I wanted. What a fifteen minutes!
All the decisions I had faced and torment over the procedure, the questions, doubts, uncertainty had now been realised and vanished. A huge sense of relief came over me and I took great satisfaction in my own beliefs and way of thinking.
I went to the cardiology department some months later after finally getting referred and spoke with a specialist doctor about everything. He was unaware of the meeting I had a few months earlier so I explained why I was there, to just discuss if I needed to take aspirin daily.
He confirmed I shouldn’t be taking any and seemed confused about why I had been for so long. I pressed him on this, “are you sure? I remember for certain being told that I would have to and that the surgeon himself had said so.”
“Ok let’s see if we can clear this up then,” he said.
To my complete amazement he got out his mobile phone and called up Dr Li (the surgeon) right there in front of me and explained that I was sat in the room with him and my concerns over not taking aspirin anymore.
I could hear the surgeon speaking and he said that I didn’t need to take aspirin everyday, it would have only been for a few months after the operation and it seemed there had been some confusion.
In my head I shouted: “YES!”
“Good I’m glad we cleared that up,” said the doctor. He then went on to say he was going to book an appointment for my next ECG scan in a few months. I paused for a moment and then explained further the appointment with the Italian doctor, not only did we discuss the daily intake of aspirin but also that I wouldn’t need anymore scans. I would stay in tune with my body and come back at a later date or as and when I needed to.
This doctor was not keen on that idea and felt I should have them every year. I explained that I felt that I would know if my health was deteriorating and if this was the case I would get in touch to start having tests. I put it to him: “believe me, you know when your heart isn’t working.”
He understood although came from another perspective, explaining that it takes time to prepare for an operation. I would need to have all the tests again and it’s best not to rush that process: “the more time we have, the better. You will also need to prepare your own life with family arrangements and we will need time too.”
He continued: “you could leave it so long that your health is in such a bad way that we only have a short time to prepare for the operation and that isn’t good. The more time we allow to do tests the more prepared we and you are so it is more likely to succeed.”
I hadn’t thought about it from this point of view; he had a valid point. It does take time to prepare for something of this magnitude and I wouldn’t want to be rushed into hospital unprepared.
We carried on chatting, agreeing it was best he signed me off and in a couple of years I should come back for a scan, even if I felt well, to see how things were going. If the scan results were fine I could then come back in a few years. If it wasn’t and there were signs that it needed to be monitored they would schedule yearly or six-monthly appointments.
This felt so much more manageable and made sense to me. I would come back at my own will to see how I was doing; no pressure, no build up. I felt that this way I could forget about it and carry on with life without having the thought that every year there would be more tests.
This gave me the sense of freedom that I had wanted, that I had fought for and had ultimately chosen to live for.